Tombstone's Shady Lady

World's largest rose bush

"A rose by any other name..." is a line that belongs to William Shakespeare. The biggest rose bush, however, belongs to a couple in a place not necessarily known for its beauty. Lee Cowan visits Tombstone, a town "too tough to die": 

The Arizona desert is a place of contrasts. It can look a little mean, but it can also look pretty inviting ... which makes it the perfect place for the Wild West town of Tombstone. It, too, has two sides.

It's the home of the infamous OK Corral, and the shootout back in 1881 between the Clantons, the McLaurys and the Earps.

In this town that's "too tough to die," that gunfight never dies, either.  It's re-enacted several times a day for tourists.

But Tombstone isn't all shoot-outs and shot glasses, says longtime Mayor Dusty Escapule.

"Tombstone has a reputation of being a rough, tough, rootin'-tootin', shoot-em-down town, but there wasn't a gunfight every day, there wasn't a fight in the bars every day," Escapule said. "Really, there is a lot of good, soft side of Tombstone."

Look up, and you'll see this silver town's silver lining: Tombstones oldest resident. She's been welcoming visitors here with outstretched arms for 132 years.

"It's like a forest of roses. It's incredible!" one admiring couple swooned.

It's a Lady Banksia Rose Bush, planted in the back of an old boarding house back in 1885 by a young bride who moved to Tombstone from Scotland with her husband.

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The Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona, is famous not just for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but also for the world's largest rose bush. CBS News

Like their love, a tiny cutting from her Scottish Countryside somehow blossomed way out here, and by the early 1930s, Robert Ripley (of "Ripley's Believe It or Not") declared it largest rose bush in the world.

Almost nine decades later, the folks at Guinness World Records say it's still the largest -- at last measurement, its canopy of white blossoms covers more than 8,000 square feet!

"Dorothy coined the term 'Shady Lady' -- Tombstone's Shady Lady," laughed Burton Devere. His grandfather bought the boarding house at the turn of the last century. The Shady Lady has been in the Devere family now for six generations.

"The plant laid on the ground for a number of years," he said. "My grandfather said he got tired of tripping on it, so he said to my grandmother one time, 'I'm either going to kill it, dig it up and get rid of it, or I'm going to put it up in the air.' And she said, 'Oh, don't kill it, it's too hard to grow anything in this country anyhow'!"

And that's how the trellis got built, providing Tombstone some much-needed shade -- still welcome real estate today -- and a setting for weddings, anniversary and birthday parties. 

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A view of Tombstone, Arizona's Shady Lady.  CBS News

It falls to groundskeeper Jeremy Dolphin (whose grandfather once worked deep in Tombstone's mines) to keep the rose bush healthy.

"I don't want to be responsible for killing the tree, but I guess you can't do it after as long as it's lived!" Dolphin said.

Which brings up the obvious question: just how has it lived so long?

The answer? The sewer. Turns out, before Tombstone had plumbing, a lot of the town's sewage seeped into the rabbit warren of mine shafts dug beneath the town -- some within reach of the Shady Lady's roots.

"We never fertilized it, anybody in the family never fertilized it, until two years ago," said Dorothy.

"It found its own fertilization, in an old mine shaft," Burton laughed.

Yuck factor aside, when it blooms for about six weeks once a year, it is cause for celebration.

The Tombstone Rose Festival has everything you might expect Tombstone to have -- including cancan girls.

But leading the parade is rose tree royalty. The 2017 Rose Festival Queen Miranda Jackson Hart was crowned under the rose bush the night before -- just like her sister was two years earlier.

"Everything needs to have a prettier side," Hart said. "Tombstone doesn't always have to be known just for gunfights or the 'town too tough to die.' We have a lot more to us than just that."

And for some, that discovery -- especially in a place where it seems so unlikely -- can really hit a nerve.

"I'm lost for words; it's just beautiful," said Tammy Jackson, wiping tears away.

For Jackson, the desert never smelled quite so sweet. "My grandma did roses. So [it] reminds me a lot of her back home. She was from New Mexico. She would have loved to have seen this."

The Deveres sell clippings, so the rose bush can live far beyond her desert home, serving to make her as immortal as the OK Corral itself.

Cowan asked, "Does she have a life span?"

"My father used to say, 'Everything dies, but until it happens, don't worry about it,'" Burton replied.

To which Dorothy added, "I hope this one is going to last a long time."

And if history is any guide, seems like it will. After all, Tombstone's Shady Lady even outlasted Wyatt Earp -- which around here is really saying something.

       
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